Between the Chiefs’ inexplicable mid-season clunkers and their stupefying postseason history of follies and futility, no one who follows this franchise could assume a diabolical trap door wasn’t waiting to spring open in the playoffs.
Never mind the 5-0 start that included beating the top two playoff seeds in both conferences and the resurgent 4-0 streak to end the season and remind of the promise of what they could do at their best.
Because it’s not paranoia if you know they’re out to get you again.
Like they did Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium, in a crushing 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans that will assume its own place among the absurd misadventures of the organization that has been doing less with more for decades and counting.
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It’s perhaps cruelly fitting that with the loss, coach Andy Reid fell to 11-13 in the postseason to tie former Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer for the third-most postseason defeats in NFL history.
Schottenheimer was 3-7 in the postseason with Kansas City, and Reid now is 1-4, and this all hurts in a different way than not making the playoffs at all.
This one was delivered with a hint of past debacles: from botching an 18-point lead to missing a crucial field goal to the inability to stop the run when it mattered most to a freaky play that resulted in an opponent’s touchdown.
But it also featured its own distinct spice by losing to a team that wasn’t at all special, and with the help of a creative definition of “forward progress” by officials.
The term was invoked twice to explain why fumbles by Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota weren’t actually fumbles.
One offset Frank Zombo’s apparent return of a two-point conversion attempt for what might have been the deciding points. The other enabled the Titans to keep the ball and kick a field goal after an oncoming Derrick Johnson clearly jarred the ball from Mariota with a sack before Mariota hit the ground.
Those calls were as bizarre as Mariota’s touchdown pass to himself, which Darrelle Revis batted down only to have it head right to where Mariota’s momentum was carrying him — eerily reminiscent of Andrew Luck’s touchdown on a fumble off a helmet in the 2013 playoff fiasco at Indianapolis.
“It’s a freak play, you know, a fluke play almost,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “Those happen, though. That’s football. That’s sports. That’s why we watch. That’s why we play.”
It’s also what Chiefs fans have come to expect will always go the other way.
But this doesn’t happen again and again and again just because wacky things seem to happen to the Chiefs, who led 21-3 at halftime.
“We came in 21-3, that’s all we were talking about: finish them, don’t get complacent, let’s go — we got bigger goals other than this game,” said Johnson, adding, “If you’re good enough, you come out with that win. That speaks for itself.”
And it all says it’s just another unforgettably forgettable season for the Chiefs — who lost their sixth straight home playoff game and remain winless in the postseason at home since 1994.
“We had a good chance,” Smith said. “And it’s gone, it’s over.”
It remains to be seen whether Smith’s words will have broader meaning as he enters the final year of his contract with the Chiefs off a terrific regular season that nonetheless will be tarnished by this ending.
Smith generally played well (24 of 33, 264 yards, two touchdown passes), but he threw for just 33 yards in the second half (minus the injured Travis Kelce) and one way or another couldn’t generate the final drive the Chiefs needed to salvage this.
With rookie Patrick Mahomes in the on-deck circle at a bargain rate ($3.7 million next year against the salary cap vs. Smith’s $17 million), this could well have been Smith’s last game with the Chiefs — a scenario he declined to address after the game.
For that matter, the Chiefs could be facing any number of changes ahead with the veteran likes of Johnson and Tamba Hali and others’ futures uncertain.
But however things change, Chiefs fans somehow have to be all the more wary after Saturday.
Their team just keeps tantalizing and torturing them, with no apparent boundaries or limits on how far they can go to do it.
“Coaches and players, we have to change it around,” Reid said. “It’s not good enough, and that’s the bottom line.”
Unless and until that changes, that’s an evergreen quote that every Chiefs fan has to live with.